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The Author's Corner

 



Liz Pilley

Visit Capall Bann's website

 

Solitary Eclectic Witchcraft

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solitary Eclectic Witchcraft:
TWPT Talks to Liz Pilley

©2006TWPT


TWPT:  When and how did you first come into contact with Wicca and what were some of your initial feelings about this spiritual path?

LP:  I should explain first of all that I don’t consider myself Wiccan at all – Pagan, definitely; witch, probably; but definitely not Wiccan. I first discovered all three when I was doing some spiritual searching after a big spiritual crisis as a teenager. I read some books and some magazines and felt I’d come home. Here were the things I’d thought and felt, written by other people who thought and felt them too! I was so happy and relieved that it wasn’t just me, there was a name for what I was.

TWPT:  Did you have a "religious" upbringing as a child or young adult and if so did these teachings present any problems to you as you started to investigate Witchcraft?  

LP:  I was brought up in a Baptist ‘happy clappy’ style Christian Church. Some aspects I liked and respected while others, I struggled with. I tried to fit my instinctive beliefs, which I’d had since childhood, into the framework of belief of the Church and when I realised that they would never fit I had a big life crisis. However, I never had any problems once I’d found the path that did fit my beliefs, merely a lot of trouble finding it!

TWPT:  What was it about Witchcraft that convinced you that this might just be the spiritual path that you were looking for? 

LP:  Wicca was the most obvious Pagan path, the one I always came across first when researching Paganism. I looked into it but it wasn’t quite right for me. I realised that my path lay more within basic Paganism than Wicca. I do practise magic, so I suppose that makes me a witch but very definitely of the eclectic variety and almost always solitary. The things that drew me to Paganism were: respect of nature, responsibility for self, taking personal honour and integrity seriously, tuning into the natural ‘flow’ of the universe and harnessing it for positive action, recognising and honouring the deity within.

TWPT:  Once you had decided to step onto the Witchcraft path what were some of the first things you felt you needed to do to integrate these beliefs into your everyday life?

LP:  At first I thought I needed ‘stuff’ – candles, incense, tools, equipment, but I soon realised that this was all unnecessary, what I really needed to do was make some changes to my life. I started being honest with myself and others, I undertook some serious soul-searching in many areas of my life, I became as ‘green’ and organic as possible, practised meditation, and generally tried to live my beliefs as actively as possible.

TWPT:  Were there any books out there that you found helpful in orienting yourself to the wide variety of beliefs that make up the modern Witchcraft community and perhaps understanding where it had originated from?

LP:  The best book on the subject I have ever read was ‘The Triumph of the Moon’ by Ronald Hutton – a fascinating read that cuts through the deluded rubbish that some books on witchcraft are and yet retains the heart of it. But, that was later. I think Vivianne Crowley made a big impact on me at one stage and I really enjoyed Mark Kirwan-Heyhoe’s ‘Stumbling Through the Undergrowth’. In general, I like smaller, more personal accounts of journeys through spiritual paths rather than the rather repetitive and prescriptive more well-known works. But, in everything I read, I never found exactly what I was looking for, so I set out to write it myself!

TWPT:  Tell me about some of your first experiences in discovering the Witchcraft/Pagan community at large and did you have any preconceptions of what you might find when you started to reach out to others who were already on the path?

 LP:  I was hoping that I would find this warm, friendly group of like-minded people but, of course, what I found was a group of ordinary people, some nice, some not so. Some people were friendly, some were plainly nuts. I found the open events I went to at first rather too much like the happy clappy church services of my youth that I had rejected, and soon realised that big public displays of faith were not for me. However, I did eventually find people who were helpful and who I helped, and made some friends that remain.

TWPT:  How would you describe the attitude of the general populace where you began practicing in regards to Witchcraft/Paganism? Were there any problems with being open about being a Witch or a Pagan?

LP:  I’ve not really had any problems. I’ve never kept my beliefs a secret, but I don’t shout them from the rooftops either as I consider them a personal and private thing. I’ve been ‘out’ in most of my workplaces. I’ve found it a bit more of a problem with regards to my children – mention witchcraft or even Paganism at playgroups and the default reaction seems to be ‘argh, ritual abuse!’ – this has made it hard to befriend other parents. Also, the very fact that as a family we tend to live quite differently from non-Pagans opens up a world of misunderstanding and difficulty in finding common ground.

TWPT:  When was it that writing became important to you and how did this begin to manifest itself in your life?

LP:  Writing has been important to me since I can remember. My mum taught me to read, at my request, when I was three and I started writing stories and ‘books’ as soon as I could hold a pencil. Since then I’ve written stories, articles, novels, essays, journals and letters. This is my medium and how I express myself.

TWPT:  Your new book is called Solitary Eclectic Witchcraft and was published by Capall Bann in theUK. What was it about this subject matter that made you feel like you wanted to share some of your thoughts on the topic in the form of a book? 

LP:  I'd been doing reading and soul-searching for quite a few years but nothing I read was exactly what I felt and most of it was very ritual-based - nothing wrong with that, just not my path. I had also been talking to a lot of people and found that many of those who chose not to be too involved with the 'Pagan scene' or who didn't feel comfortable being involved in it, were doing more of the type of thing that interested me - a more free, unstructured magical practice. I realised that I wasn't the only one searching for this particular path and so I decided to write about it, to write the book I wanted to read when I was first searching, so that later people on the same path could maybe profit from my experience. 

TWPT:  In my first question you pointed out that you were not Wiccan. For many seekers the dividing line between Wicca and Witchcraft is more than a little blurred. In your mind what are the differences between someone who calls themselves a Wiccan and someone who calls themselves a Witch? 

LP:  This is both the blessing and the curse of Paganism - it can be as individual to each person as the people are themselves. But, because there's no authority to make definitions, it also means there is lots of confusion and anger - people feel they aren't doing things 'properly' or they feel that someone they have met had misrepresented themselves or is not genuine in some way, mainly because of the problems of definitions. Anyway, for me, Wicca is a very specific, heavily ritualised and structured mystery religion based on Gerald Gardner's practices which owe a lot to Masonic and High Magic lore and myth. Witchcraft however can cover a huge multitude of practices - anything that includes the practice of magic in some form. For me, the essence of my Witchcraft/Paganism is self-knowledge, personal responsibility, honour, seeking wholeness and happiness, commitment to environmental and ethical issues, and trying to fit into the flow of the universe and seasons. 

TWPT:  What is it that makes someone eclectic in regards to Witchcraft? 

LP:  I think 'eclectic' is a term indicating that you do not follow a specific pre-laid-out path, such as Wicca. Unfortunately, in some people's eyes, this indicates a sloppy thinker who follows a so-called 'fluffy new age' path of using a bit of everything with no regard for provenance or authenticity. However, it can be exactly the opposite, someone who refuses to take anything for granted and researches everything carefully before using it, someone who is set on finding the spirituality that is right for them at a most basic level. Hopefully, I'm the latter! 

TWPT:  Are there any guidelines/boundaries for being eclectic? In other words is there a point when someone becomes so eclectic that they leave Witchcraft behind and begin practicing another path? 

LP:  That's a good question and it's one without an agreed answer. I know that some people have thought I'm not really a Witch because I don't use ritual or follow the established Wheel of the Year. Again, this highlights the problems with labels and definitions within Paganism and Witchcraft which I hope to address in my next book. I think the only answer is to follow your heart and soul and ignore the labels. Your spirituality is no-one else's business. 

TWPT:  When you started to write Solitary Eclectic Witchcraft did you have an idea as to what you wanted to present to your readers to show them the broad range of choices that face someone who takes on the name of eclectic? 

LP:  I really wanted to show an alternative to ritual and covens and initiation. I wanted to show that simple individuals doing simple magic and living close to the earth are as valid as more dramatic paths. I had met a lot of people who felt no confidence in what they did as according to all the current books they were doing it 'all wrong'. I wanted to show that lineage and arguments about how long a tradition had been going and who had the power to 'authorise' another's practice, were all irrelevant. What was relevant was what was inside the head, the heart and the soul. I wanted to re-emphasise the intellectual, personal responsibility, environmental aspects of Witchcraft which I feel have become rather lost. 

TWPT:  How is your book arranged and what kind of order did you use chapter wise for presenting your thoughts on being an eclectic Witch? 

LP:  I arranged it to address the individual from the inside, outwards, as this is how I believe a spiritual practice should begin. First you should address yourself and make necessary changes, learn lessons, heal yourself. Only then can you look outwards and learn further, heal, and make magic. I know this isn't a very fashionable view today - lots of people I have met have found the path yesterday and want to do advanced magic tomorrow and there are many books which facilitate and even encourage that. I feel that is a mistake. Magic should be the last step, not the first. Self-knowledge and learning are more important in order to know where you are likely to go wrong, to reflect on the ethical issues and potential repercussions of your actions, to know your strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, the order my book is in is as a workbook, to go through the appropriate stages in the appropriate order. A toolkit, for helping you to find your own path. 

TWPT:  Tell me about how it was that Capall Bann came to publish Solitary Eclectic Witchcraft and what kind of relationship as an author that you have with them? 

LP:  Capall Bann are a specialist small press in this subject area and are a committed family firm with a common sense and ethical approach. We don't have to have agents, we deal with each other directly and have a chance to build up a relationship of trust. I felt they would be a safe pair of hands, and they also have a lot of great contacts in the Pagan community, so I felt my book would reach a wide audience of people likely to be interested. 

TWPT:  Is your book aimed at a certain level (beginner, intermediate etc.) of practitioner? 

LP:  Not really. Beginners can certainly use it to help them in their original search and to help them define their path and start on their journey of personal transformation. I had them at least partially in mind when I wrote it. But, most experienced practitioners would probably agree that periodically you have to reassess your faith (or sometimes it can reassess you in the most dramatic ways!). Sometimes you choose to do it, sometimes you have a spiritual crisis, sometimes your mundane life changes and throws up new issues. If we don't change, we become stagnant, and I hope that my book can also help in this kind of reassessment 

TWPT:  How important is it for readers of your book to take the time to work through the exercises that are included within each chapter? 

LP:   It's up to them really, it depends on what they want to get out of the book and how they learn best. Some people like doing exercises and some people don't. Some people find it easier to do them with pencil and paper and some people just think about them, even at a subconscious level. I wanted to include some practical exercises and steps to take for those who want them, but not too many as many people may prefer just to have thoughts and ideas introduced to them and then to work with them as they want. 

TWPT:  What kind of feedback have you been getting from readers of your book so far? As an author how important is the feedback from your readers and does it have any impact on works that you might have in progress? 

LP:  I've not had a huge amount of feedback which is a shame as I love hearing what people think and would welcome correspondance with questions and further thoughts - we all learn from each other and it shows me what people are particularly concerned about and interested in. However, the feedback I have had has all been positive and has been particularly from people who feel quite isolated by the way they do things, even from other Pagans and Witches. Lots of people are lacking in confidence in their instincts or feel they are boring, or that what they do barely 'counts' as Paganism or Witchcraft, and it is these people who seem to have felt particularly moved to respond to me.

TWPT:  In your book you talk a lot about understanding your environment and attuning to it so that your practice of the craft will be working with nature and not against it. Tell me about the current environment that exists in theUK towards Witchcraft and those who publicly proclaim themselves as Witches. Has public understanding improved over the last couple of decades? 

LP:  I have found it very varied. I don't tend to proclaim my beliefs but neither do I keep them secret if they come up. Lots of people have been fine with a few exceptions of work colleagues occasionally. Festivals I have been to have sometimes attracted protesters outside or letters in the local press but usually these have been more than balanced by letters of support. I have found that talking tends to dispel any bad feelings quite quickly as it is usually based on ignorance. But I haven't noticed much change in the last couple of decades apart from a perception of Witchcraft in the general public being now based on Buffy instead of Samantha from Bewitched! 

TWPT:  As an author what are your views about the Internet and the immediacy that it has brought to communications with just about anyone around the world who is also connected? Do you feel that it has enhanced your ability to connect with those who read your books and what are the benefits and drawbacks of this instant communication? 

LP:  I think the Internet is great - it makes research so much easier and knowledge easier to obtain. You can also find out about the lives of people in other countries and cultures much more easily and should, in theory, help dispel prejudice. Obviously, it has a downside to - there is a lot of rubbish out there and it can be used to propagate hatred just as easily as acceptance. Once again, the Internet is just a tool and can be used however the hand which holds it dictates.

TWPT:  Do you take a break between your books or do you just plow right ahead into the next project once the previous one has made it to the printers? 

LP:  Writing is something I need to do to express the ideas I have. Sometimes I write books, sometimes stories, articles, fiction, non-fiction, letters, journals. I write whatever I have the urge to write that day and I often have several projects on the go at once. I can only write something if I feel I have something genuine to say. 

TWPT:  You briefly mentioned your next book in one of your answers, could you give us a preview of what it is that you have in mind to write about?  

LP:  It is already finished and I'm hoping Capall Bann will also publish it. It follows on from the subject matter in 'Solitary Eclectic Witchcraft'. It discusses life as  Pagan or Witch in modern times and some of the dilemmas you can face, giving ideas for living more truely with your beliefs and discussing areas which can give problems. I hope it will give food for thought for those who really want to change their life and lifestyles in accordance with their beliefs. The title should be 'Thoughtful Pagan Living' which is what it hopefully will help readers to achieve. 

TWPT:  I know that authors in the states sometimes do lectures or make appearances at festivals in a teaching capacity to promote their books. Is that something that you do to in theUK as well? If so are you making any appearances in the next few months where readers might get to see you in person? 

LP:  I have done in the past but the birth of my children, who are both still quite small, has restricted me in what I can take on. Hopefully when they are more able to do without me for a day, I will give talks again, if invited! 

TWPT:  Looking back on the writing of Solitary Eclectic Witchcraft were there some things that writing the book either taught you or brought back to your conscious mind? Any final thoughts you’d like to share with the readers of TWPT on either side of the pond? 

LP:  Sometimes I look back over the book and think 'Oops, I'm not doing that at the moment!' and it jolts me to realise how easy it is to let your own standards slip and principles to go by the wayside when life gets in the way. It did help me enormously to write the book as it clarified many things which had only been semi-conscious before. 

I think a final thought I'd like to share would be this: always think about things. Don't just do what is expected or what everyone else is doing. Think hard about whether things are what you want to do and believe are right. Be honest in thought and deed and honourable in your dealings with other people. There's enough nastiness in the world, don't add any more to it! Blessings to everyone. 

TWPT:  Thanks Liz for taking the time out of your schedule to talk to me and share your ideas with the readers of The Wiccan/Pagan Times and I wish you the best of luck with your current book and the next one that you have lined up. Blessings.